Using the Web to help others

I have been a fan of TED Talks for some time, and often find myself watching a video or two for some inspiration or enlightenment. For those of you who are unfamiliar with TED, it is a non-profit organisation that started out in the early ’80s with the goal of spreading ideas around the three worlds of Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Amongst other things, TED holds an annual conference where guest speakers address an audience on a variety of thought provoking topics.

In our busy lives we often don’t take enough time to sit back, take stock, and consider different things in the world around us. With TED you get exposed to some really smart ideas from really smart people.

Earlier this week I stumbled across a talk from Jonathan Zittrain, a social theorist who argues that in the increasingly modern and self-absorbed, materialistic world we live in, the Internet provides a platform for random acts of kindness between people.

It got me thinking about using technology for the greater good, and inspired me to seek out some other examples where organisations and individuals are using the web – not to make money, but to help people.

Yes this is a “feel-good” blog post. Are you feeling all warm and fuzzy yet?

Peace on Facebook
This initiative from Facebook helps to promote world peace by showing how the social networking site connects people and allows people to share their ideas thoughts and beliefs with others. There is a powerful little graph that shows Facebook friend connections created each day between people of different countries, religions, and political affiliations. It shows that despite tensions or conflict that may exist in the world, there are people who bridge the divide, and become friends with people on the opposing side. It’s a powerful, and rather inspiring story.

Facebook Peace

Other initiatives on facebook include Facebook for Good – a page were people can post stories of how facebook has helped people “give back to their communities, effect change or connect with someone important to them.” Including the heart-felt story Bob the cat who had been missing for two years but was reunited with his owners when they were contacted through facebook after posting a message about his disappearance.
Google commit 1% of the company’s “equity and profits in some form, as well as employee time, to address some of the world’s most urgent problems”. Given they make a lot of money, then this is a significant amount. The funds are managed by who spends it on interesting projects like Flu Trends which maps the intensity of flu outbreaks globally by monitoring what search terms people are plugging into google.

Google also channels funds to climate change initiatives such as the Google PowerMeter that helps people monitor their electricity usage online.

There are countless stories of how the Twitter community has turned to the social networking platform for help in finding missing children, saving a man from Egyptian justice,
helping a woman having a seizure, and my favourite – helping Guy Sebastian find his lost guitar. Although I can’t help but wonder if he never found his guitar then that would be a good thing?

As you can see, despite the increasing perception that society is becoming more self-centerd and narcissistic, with the help of the Internet, there are some people, and even some corporate organisations out there who are genuinely helping others (and the odd missing cat) through random acts of kindness. They don’t have to do it, but they do it anyway. So this post is dedicated to all those people who help make the world a better place. Happy Friday.


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